What comes to mind when you think of a courageous and strong leader?
Images of a person who is unwavering and commanding? Someone who expects perfection and hides their vulnerability?
I had these same images in my mind before I read the NY Times bestseller Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Brené Brown turns this idea upside down by showing us that diving into vulnerability and bearing our imperfections is what actually makes us truly courageous.
Brené’s main message: The more we protect ourselves from vulnerability, the more we grow fearful and armored. And, armored, does not a great leader make.
Vulnerability became her claim to fame
While working as a research professor at the University of Houston in 2010, she received an invitation to give a Tedx Talk. Her talk on the topic of vulnerability went viral. As of the writing of this article, it has 53,092,420 views on ted.com.
For those of you who missed that video and haven’t yet been swept up by the Brené tornado of truth, allow me to introduce you. She’s the author of four other #1 New York Times bestsellers, the host of the Unlocking Us podcast, and a Ted Talk dynamo.
This social scientist’s so on fire Netflix decided to set a precedent by recording her lecture so viewers could get a hit of her wisdom.
Brenés friendly approach makes facing ourselves less terrifying
Brené’s books fall under the categories of self-help and motivational management & leadership. Her books delve into the topics of courage, shame, vulnerability, and empathy and how they’re interconnected.
All of Brené’s books are part intensive research, part straight-talking, sage advice. Her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Social Work informs her work which is humanistic yet firmly rooted in a research-oriented, academic approach to getting answers.
Her writing is peppered with funny stories and some heart-wrenching ones—relatable to us all. Plus, a feature I love is that she provides writing exercises, so you can get to the nitty-gritty stuff and apply what you’re learning.
You know when you go to a carnival and encounter that House of Mirrors? Well, the following four books (also available on Audible if you prefer to listen) will show you different reflections of yourself and help you to embrace that freaky one in which you’re stretched in an unnatural, hideous way.
Brené guides you on the path to becoming more empathetic, vulnerable, and willing to find your shame points—all ingredients to becoming a strong leader—and an all-around happier person.
I recommend reading the following four books in the order listed below. (But reading them in any order won’t detract from their impact.)
I must admit perfectionism was proudly displayed on my professional calling card. After all, who wouldn’t want an employee who dots her i’s and crosses her t’s? Brené’s unpacking of perfectionism made me rethink my belief that it was a positive attribute.
I learned the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving. A quote from The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are:
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
In this book, Brené shares her concept of Wholehearted Living—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
Brené provides 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living:
|Letting go of…||Cultivating…|
|What people think||Authenticity|
|Numbing & powerlessness||A resilient spirit|
|Scarcity & fear of the dark||Gratitude & joy|
|Need for certainty||Intuition & trusting faith|
|Exhaustion as a status symbol |
and productivity as self-worth
|Play & rest|
|Anxiety as a lifestyle||Calm & stillness|
|Self-doubt & “supposed to”||Meaningful work|
|Being cool + “always in control”||Laughter, song, & dance|
Once you’ve worked through at least some of those ten guideposts, you’re ready to dare greatly!
Brené digs into the shame topic in this book. She identifies Shame Categories, including the following:
- Appearance & body image
- Money & work
- Mental & physical health
- Surviving trauma
- Being stereotyped or labeled
Any one of these can be a trigger for many of us. Carrying the shame around is a malignant growth that needs to be let go of with patience and care.
And a brave leader understands that we’re all human and have imperfections, fears, and shame. In Brene’s words, A brave leader is someone who says, I see you. I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to keep listening and asking questions.
Many leaders are afraid of “going there” and protect themselves from hearing what their employees need and are feeling about their roles. Managers should be able to recognize their own shame points in order to recognize if they’re operating from this place.
When the shame points are identified, it’s possible to face them and rise strong.
Brené’s book, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, which came out in 2015, is about cultivating boundaries, not comparing ourselves to others, and owning our story.
There are dozens of keepers, but this line is my standby: Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.
That’s something we can all benefit from. Leaders can be especially guilty of constantly comparing their employees to each other and assuming there’s a stable and equal playing field.
A leader who invites difficult conversations might find out that one person is dealing with something extraordinary and needs a respite. Or that one person is neurodiverse.
There are many reasons that making comparisons without some depth of knowledge about circumstances can be unfair.
When you’ve faced your imperfections, explored your shame points, and shown your vulnerability, you’re living more whole-heartedly and becoming a leader in your own life, which will translate to your professional sphere.
Finally, my favorite, thus far, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. If you want to take your leadership next level, the new leadership bible is Dare to Lead.
Dare to Lead is putting the top three books into practice in your career.
Full of actionable and tactical advice, this book is an absolute must-read for anyone who would like to find meaning in their work and for companies that would like to create a courageous culture that supports being real by encouraging ownership, honesty, and values with clearly defined outcomes and behaviors.
Of course, Brené says it best:
“A courageous culture connects its values to specific behaviors so people know what is expected, encouraged, and rewarded within their team and organization. In addition to setting clear expectations, the process gives organizations shared language and a well-defined culture. It helps us determine cultural fit during hiring, and offers us very straightforward standards of behavior when there are non-performance-related issues.”
Dare to Lead is tactical and actionable with free downloadable workbooks and tools on Brené’s Dare to Lead Hub.
Brené Brown says that the more we protect ourselves from vulnerability, the more we grow fearful and disconnected. Being vulnerable then means the opposite: engaging fully and openly with those around us.
Brené’s expression rumbling with vulnerability emphasizes that this is not a smooth ride on a flat plane.
So, if you’d like to become a truly courageous leader in every area of your life, these books are just what the doctor ordered — Dr. Brené Brown that is.